The Labor Ministry has denied a report that it plans to limit the stay of foreign workers to eight years, but a ministry source on Monday insisted that the proposal is being studied and would be implemented.
The source was quoted in a local publication as saying that the implementation would be done in stages to soften any negative consequences for workers and employers.
This assertion comes in the wake of a report published in the Wall Street Journal on Friday, headlined “Saudi Arabia Puts Squeeze on Foreign Workers,” that “Saudi authorities” planned this move to reduce unemployment and counter the effect of lower oil prices.
The newspaper did not quote any Saudi ministry spokesman or source on the decision, which it said specifically targeted low-income workers such as drivers, shop assistants and maids.
However, it did use data from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Saudi government on joblessness, the expatriate workforce and other economic indicators.
Tayseer Al-Mufrej, the ministry’s spokesman, had earlier denied that the ministry is considering a limit, but the source said that the proposal is in line with Gulf Cooperation Council decisions to limit the stay of foreign workers in the region.
Khalifa Al-Dabeeb, chairman of the contractor’s committee at the Eastern Province Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said he was opposed to the move because employers would have to fire their experienced workers.
He suggested that expatriates should be allowed to stay for a particular number of years, and then granted permission to return under new contracts at the same company or other companies.
The Wall Street Journal report, quoting IMF figures, said that expatriate workers are currently about a quarter of Saudi Arabia’s population of some 30 million and about three-quarters of the private-sector workforce, of which 85 percent is deemed to be low-skilled.
“Saudi nationals make up the majority in the government sector and are paid about $2,000 (SR7,500) a month on average, nearly double the private sector,” the report stated.
“Unemployment among nationals is about 11.5 percent compared with 0.2 percent among expatriates, according to the latest figures from Saudi’s Central Department of Statistics and Information. Saudis view many jobs as beneath them, and there are few industries where they work side-by-side with lower-income expats,” the report stated.
The report stated that during the oil boom of the 1970s, the countries of the Gulf, including Saudi Arabia, “imported cheap labor in the construction sector to rapidly build infrastructure and for menial work. Saudi Arabia has continued to accept millions of these expatriates in recent years, with most in lower-income jobs such as construction worker, shop assistant, driver or housemaid. Many have grown up in the Kingdom and are the second or third generation of their family to be born in Saudi Arabia.”
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